Today is my 5-year flamenco anniversary. It has been a relationship with my soul. I have experienced happiness and sadness, triumph and failure, pride and frustration, love and loss. Through it all, flamenco has been a constant, allowing me to have an outlet for the fire that burns within me and an escape for my feelings. Flamenco has spirited me away and grounded me all at the same time. As I spend this anniversary in a less- than-ideal manner, not able to dance what my soul is speaking, I am reminded of the moment I took this picture. Having just left my final dance class in Triana, I stopped to look across the river. I was overcome with emotion and it hit me in one fail swoop how much I loved this place and this art form. It is memories like this I will resurrect during my new challenges. I will give my flamenco new purpose. I will learn new things and draw from this experience to come back an even more bad-ass dancer than before (assuming I was to begin with). I dance for ME and no one else. Flamenco lives in me and I am grateful for the special people in my life for their love and support. Bring on year six!!!
Here I sit, not for the first time, sidelined from dancing due to a body part that isn’t on board with my passion for flamenco. For a few days, I wallowed in my situation, but now I am done with that. I will use this healing time to strengthen my body and bond with flamenco in other ways.
One thing I learned early on and continue to practice is that you MUST INVEST yourself in this craft in order to give your passion DEPTH. What I am discovering now, however, is the ability to find new ways to do that when something changes your course. Even if only temporarily.
Maybe it comes from a place of spending most of my life in cultural dance forms; first Hawaiian hula, now flamenco, but I very, very strongly believe in taking the time to find out what the heritage you are portraying means. I feel you have to understand an art form for it to be believable and have meaning.
So, while I am laid up for a few weeks, unable to dance, I will revisit some great ways to really immerse myself in the STUDY OF FLAMENCO. Yes, that’s right, it is a study. Not just showing up to dance in my ruffles and cool-ass shoes. And it’s an eternal phase; the hard work never stops and is constantly evolving. That is flamenco.
Listening to flamenco music is always first on my list. For me, listening to various styles and singers really gives me a sense of the feeling behind it and when I close my eyes, I can see myself dancing to it. It is also a great way to recognize the different palos of flamenco. I become inspired and comfortable and it releases an element of my own personal voice, or interpretation. I feel like this is so essential for demonstrating the real vibe of flamenco when I am on the dance floor.
Next, I will watch videos of both men and women dancers. I do this a lot! But the videos are not just to capture the essence of the dancers, I also pay attention to the singers and musicians, how they are responding or collaborating with the dancers, how the palmas carry the undertone, and how the whole unit acts in amazing unison. I understand that you cannot have flamenco without all of it working together, so the videos act as a good model for study. I usually always pick out a move or two from the dancer that I love and try to hold onto it in my memory bank for future use.
I will also work on what I can from a sitting position; palmas, braceo, castañuelas, etc. No time like the present to focus on what I CAN use of my body. I practice castañuelas fairly regularly but the rest will be new methodology. Taking time to focus on this should definitely help my upper body strength and precision.
I will read some more too. I’ve been lazily reading a collection of theoretical perspective essays but now I can finish it! Part of my study of flamenco is to learn the history and tradition and where it comes from. The more I know, the more I can connect to it. My goal is for it to enhance the flamenco that comes out of me and that is an earned privilege.
An added bonus to all of this is when I am feeling at an impasse and unsure where my flamenco path is taking me, I go back to its teachings. Back to the reasons I love flamenco, back to the rich history and culture, back to how it speaks to me, and back to my personal relationship with the dance. I renew my respect for the real reason I dance and I inevitably realize that is all that matters.
I think it is important, as a torch bearer of an art form filled with so much history, to reach for more knowledge, not just when you are injured and cannot dance. I am reminded of that now. Immerse yourself as much as you can in your craft. Give your art form the value it deserves. INVEST IN YOUR PASSION.
With all the crazy things we are expected to do with our bodies in dance class, it is no wonder that so many hilarious phrases and lots of innuendos are uttered…so I started making a list. I couldn’t let these golden quotes pass me by. Don’t be offended; what makes them funny is when taken out of context. 🙂
- If you keep your butt tucked in, it will make it stronger.
- Keep your knees together and just lift your leg to the side.
- Me: 50 You: 17. Don’t talk to me about being tired.
- Don’t pound so hard.
- It looks better if you point your toes.
- You can vibrate, just no bouncing.
- I will bang with you!
- I haven’t even touched myself yet.
- No skimping on the buttocks.
- Give your ass a good slap.
- The first time is always the hardest.
- Bend over, it will make it easier.
- Do you want it fast or slow? Make up your mind.
- Keep your legs closed, it’s better for you.
- Where are you feeling it? Then you’re doing it right/wrong! (depending on your answer)
Anyone who has taken at least a few flamenco classes will understand these comments are usually made in relation to zapateado, posture, compás, marcaje, or speed of music/cante. But, hilarious, nonetheless. Enjoy!
It has taken me a little over five months of being home from Spain for it all to settle in…and there has been much to absorb. There was a magic about being in Spain all its own, but learning flamenco there was just perfect.
Going to Sevilla changed me as a flamenco dancer. I feel renewed, energized and awake. Seeing all the professionals and their immense natural talent gave me such inspiration and appreciation for the art form. The large decorative theaters and elaborate stage productions on top of the mind-blowing dancing left me in awe. It was very educational to see flamenco translated in this way.
Witnessing up close and personal the tablao shows was amazing and the aire they flung off the stage was contagious. Being able to get a birds-eye view of the attitude and passion was an invaluable experience. I mean, you can’t walk away from a performance where the sweat from the male dancers hair slings you in the face without some level of exhilaration!
My trip to Spain also changed me, and probably more deeply, on a personal level. Taking classes from a renowned artist enabled me to be surrounded by students who came from around the world on their quest for more flamenco skill and knowledge. I researched and chose my teacher carefully, based on who I felt I could get the most from. And she did not disappoint; Mercedes Ruiz was not just a technique-rich dancer, but a dancer with concaved, pinched, and bent body while still holding beautiful lines. More puro form, in my opinion, and that’s what I was looking for.
Most importantly, I gained confidence. I firmly believe it is a confidence I could not have acquired anywhere else. I was initially a bit worried how I would manage taking classes every single day on top of a busy schedule outside of class. I was very happy with myself that I hung in there, tested my stamina by showing up every day and picking up most of the fast-paced instruction. Looking back, I am still surprised at my level of activity; walking for hours, shopping, sightseeing, going to shows, staying up late into the night and still having enough steam in me to go to a very rigorous class the next morning.
That confidence followed me back home, too. I felt different walking into the studio after that. I stood a little taller. I held my chin up a little higher. I knew my body a little better. I just felt like I finally believed I was good enough.
Beyond that, I am more appreciative of the culture and traditions. I have become more aware of a people who are so happy to share the art of flamenco with those of us who cannot possibly truly feel the manifestation of it’s origins.
The new meaning of flamenco for me now is so much more real and deep. I have been to the epicenter of flamenco and I have witnessed the masters. I have walked the streets, eaten the food, enjoyed my flamenco community, learned from one of the best and surpassed the personal goals I set for myself. I feel empowered.
Flamenco has taken a sure space in my soul now, more than ever before. I feel it in my bones. And I want my dancing to display the soulful expression of my journey.
New flamenco goals.
(photo found on http://www.paladarytomar.com)
I have written about my birth into the world of flamenco. I have written about what it means to me and the special place it holds in my life.
But something came before flamenco – a dance that filled my life as a child. A dance that gave me an early appreciation for cultural traditions and history. A dance as beautiful as its story. Having just recently returned from visiting with family in Hawai’i, I am reminded of its importance. So, this post is dedicated to my roots in the art form of hula dancing.
My earliest memories of dance are of the hula. And I was not alone. I had a partner. Some of you may know this, some may not; I am an identical twin. My sister and I are three minutes apart in age and being a twin has held some interesting and fun memories. The hula is one of the strongest ones I have.
My mother set about instructing my sister and I in learning the hula in the most serious of fashions. I can recall this from as young as five years old. Our training was not only in the successful portrayal of this art form so interwoven in the fabric of Hawai’i but also in her absolute conviction of presenting a mirror image. Yes, the twin thing! My mother had us practice for hours and hours to ensure my sister and I were moving exactly together, at every moment, to appear as one fluid entity.
I did not mind this at all. As a child, it was fun and even a bit playful to have this unique quality as part of our hula experience. As we grew older, we learned more dances and progressed to learning a few of the musical instruments and implements of hula; ‘ukelele, ‘uli-‘uli’s (feathered gourd rattles), and pu’ili (split bamboo rhythm sticks).
In elementary school in Hawai’i, we traveled to the other islands to perform hula and ‘ukelele with our classmates. When we moved to the mainland (South Carolina), my mother entered us into talent shows and arranged our performances for community events, schools, and private parties. As you can well imagine, hula in South Carolina was an anomaly, much less performed by identical twins! As high school came around, my sister and I were called upon to dance for school events on numerous occasions.
As adulthood approached and my sister and I began to lead our separate lives, the hula took more of a backseat. Other pastimes entered my life, but it always remained looming in the shadows, re-emerging when asked to teach a group of children at a summer camp or pre-school, or when I, myself, had children and found I had the natural desire to pass it down to them. This eventually morphed into my daughters and I performing the hula for heritage month events at my workplaces, which we still do all these years later. More recently, I was a guest artist for a local event here in Louisville that showcased hula and bellydance students and did an impromptu hula at a flamenco party.
I realize this post is a bit long-winded, but it is imperative to talk about the influence and consistency hula has in my life. It is integral to the dancer I am today. While flamenco, at first, seemed similar in the hand gestures, body posture, and interpretive style of hula, I have come to learn there really is a great deal of difference. For example, I have to keep my natural tendency of hip movement quiet for flamenco, my graceful hands of hula must do full circles at the wrist for flamenco flores, the common cheerful expression or smile of hula has little to no place on the face of a flamenco dancer, and the subtle sensuality and consistent rhythm of the hula is replaced by sharp, precise, and sometimes aggressive movements in flamenco. Don’t even get me started on how vastly different the footwork between hula and flamenco is! Hula is done in bare feet, for goodness sake, which can hardly compare to the nailed, sturdy, heeled-shoes of flamenco and their accompanying firm pronunciation on the dance floor.
There are a couple of physical elements of hula that are the same in flamenco; dancing with slightly bent knees for better balance, being able to separate and move individually the top from the lower part of the body, and the rule of not bopping up and down when you dance. This common ground has been a benefit to me.
That said, I have wondered many times before, how in the world can my background in hula dancing help me at all in transitioning to flamenco when it is so structurally different. The answer has surprised me and can be found, not in the physical movements of each dance, but in the spiritual and emotional connection between dance and dancer.
Both dances require an unyielding appreciation for a cultural art form. Both dances demand focus and dedication in learning that culture. Both dances have a rich history that brings forth a deep desire to do it justice and share it with others. And both dances offer a unique opportunity to be expressive and to “feel” the music. Probably, for me, what my hula has enabled me to do in my flamenco dancing most is enrich my soul. I always have and always will have a special place in my heart for hula and will continue sharing that with people whenever possible. But now, I have this new and different excitement coursing through my veins. Maybe, it is the natural course of getting older to seek a more aggressive and passionate way of expression.
Mahalo to all the people that nurtured my hula experiences and for what it has given me in life and as a craft. Gracias to my current teachers and fellow students for allowing me to continue my love of dance and search for self-expression with flamenco.
Please enjoy the slideshow below with a few snapshots of my hula life.